Walgreens, CVS Shut Some Pharmacies on Weekends as Omicron Strains Staffing

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From Akron, Ohio to New Gloucester, Maine, the drugstore chain is temporarily closing goofy locations

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Supermarkets and US retailers such as Macy’s Inc.

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and walmart Inc.

Hours are also shortening as hordes of American workers stay home because they are sick, waiting for test results or caring for others with the virus.

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Before Omicron’s spread, the drugstore chain, which collectively operates about 20,000 stores nationwide, was cutting hours, raising wages and laying off thousands more workers to address staff shortages. was scrambling to keep up. But with its roles as leading providers of COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, the chain is also dealing with growing dissatisfaction among existing employees as well as customer concern about the service.

Walgreens and CVS said they were unable to quantify the weekend closures, which fluctuate each week and sometimes occur without notice. In locations such as Washington, DC, New Gloucester, Maine and New Paltz, NY, customers have said they have encountered unexpectedly closed drive-thru and pharmacy counters in recent weeks. In some cases, people found pharmacies closed only for scheduled COVID-19 vaccine appointments.

Zack Fox of Akron, Ohio, said his wife went 12 hours without pain medication after returning home on Friday recently from surgery to repair a broken leg. He had a prescription sent to the couple’s general CVS, but he arrived that evening to find a sign that said the store was closed at 6 p.m. and wouldn’t open until 10 a.m. Monday, “under our control.” due to circumstances beyond that.”

He went to another CVS, where a pharmacist was unable to deliver the pain medication because it’s a controlled substance whose prescriptions can’t be transferred between drugstores. Mr. Fox said the pharmacist instructed him to ask his insurer to clear the way for another place to fill the prescription, but the insurer’s automated voice system said agents were busy and could potentially wait until the next day. were unavailable.

“At the moment I feel angry. My wife has now gone twelve hours without pain medication, less than two days after a major surgery,” Mr. Fox said. “She’s in a lot of pain.”

He went to the hospital where his wife had surgery to request that a doctor clear the way for another CVS to fill the prescription, which eventually worked. “It took a lot of extra work that no one should have to do to get their medicine,” he said.

A spokesperson for CVS said a small portion of its approximately 10,000 US stores are closing on one or both weekends “in light of acute staffing issues amid the Omicron boom and workforce shortages affecting nearly every industry and company.” to help solve.”

A Walgreens spokesperson said most of the chain’s 9,000 US stores are open their regular hours. “The ongoing labor shortage coupled with the rise in Covid-19 cases has resulted in isolated instances in which we have had to adjust operating hours or temporarily close a limited number of stores,” he said. he said.

When a pharmacy needs to close, Walgreens tries to close it on the days with the least demand and then prepares nearby locations to handle the additional business, the spokesperson said. The company tries to alert customers as quickly as possible with adjustments to signage, automated phone calls and refills. He said that employees from closed locations are often deployed to help employees at other shops.

“We are going through this with our communities and are committed to providing the support they need to overcome this boom,” she said.

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Last month it said it would begin closing stores an hour earlier and allow walk-in vaccines for only one hour a day due to staff shortages.

Demand for COVID-19 vaccines and testing has driven sales and profits for both CVS and Walgreens. Walgreens recently reported its highest quarterly sales growth in 20 years. CVS this week raised its profit forecast for 2021, mainly due to high demand for COVID-19 shots and tests, both at home and in store.

Additional business has also incurred costs. Chains are spending extra money to address staff shortages, which have led to sporadic pharmacy closures, chaotic scenes in stores, and trouble with customers with COVID-19 tests and vaccines.

Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians say they are burning out as a result of overworking and working long hours and working extra shifts. Pharmacy employees say they are also subject to abuse by angry customers over long wait times and scheduling mistakes. Walgreens, in a call with analysts last week, attributed low growth in prescription revenue to pharmacies’ limited hours and the reality that pharmacists were too busy calling patients to make sure they were keeping up with their medications. .

Write Sharon Terlep at [email protected]

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